A preliminary non-jury hearing in a lawsuit filed by television personality Bill Nye — who alleges that Walt Disney Co. subsidiary Buena Vista Television engaged in questionable accounting and cheated him out profits from his show, “Bill Nye the Science Guy” — will be conducted remotely next month, a judge ruled Monday.
The ruling by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Cowan means that lawyers and witnesses will speak from outside locations through a video platform to be selected later. The hearing begins Dec. 14 with Nye among the scheduled witnesses. Only the judge and his staff will be present in the courtroom.
Cowan had urged that the remote proceedings take place because of the coronavirus pandemic. He said he recently remotely conducted an eight-day non-jury trial in a contract case and was pleased with the results.
“From a technical standpoint, it went off without a hitch,” the judge said.
Cowan told the lawyers that the Nye hearing will enable them to show how their “good work can benefit others as we deal with this pandemic.”
The judge is being asked to decide contract issues in the preliminary hearing and will decide later whether a jury should decide some of the disputes in the case or if he will also hold a non-jury trial on the accounting issues. If a jury trial is held, it will be conducted with the lawyers and parties in the courtroom, the judge said.
Nye filed the lawsuit in August 2017, alleging he and the other owners of the show are owed $28.1 million and Nye himself is owed at least $9.4 million.
The series originally ran from 1992 to 1997 on PBS, and is still streamed on services such as Netflix. Buena Vista struck a deal to distribute, market and promote the series starting in 1993.
Nye, 65, alleges he was supposed to make 16.5% of net profits from the show. In 2008, Buena Vista sent him a royalty check for $585,123. According to the lawsuit, Buena Vista then told Nye there was an accounting error and that he actually owed the studio $496,111.
Nye alleges he was wary of the bookkeeping and tried to negotiate with Buena Vista, but the company failed to cooperate with his attempts to audit the earnings of the show. Nye alleges Buena Vista stopped making royalty payments in 2008 because of the dispute.
The lawsuit alleges the defendants did not act in good faith to resolve the dispute and maintains the companies of were part of a conspiracy to deceive Nye.
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